After Yolanda: The barber of Guiuan

Patricia Evangelista
The men start coming. They say they want haircuts. Their houses may fall, their businesses may be lost, but, by God, the men of Guiuan will look good.

EASTERN SAMAR, Philippines – The barbershop isn’t much of a shop. There is a floor. There is a roof. There is a thin wooden wall. There is a plastic tray and an old man in a bright blue cape sitting on a plastic chair. Behind him stands Alan, a cigarette in his mouth, chest and belly flecked with tiny snips of hair.

Alan Alcantara is a barber, has always been a barber, the same as his grandfather and his uncles before him. Three years ago, he sold his barbershop in Catbalogan, Samar, and packed his bags and followed his wife to her hometown of Guiuan, a spit of land along the coast of Eastern Samar. Before Typhoon Haiyan smashed through Guiuan, Alan had a red leather barber’s chair, a set of electric razors, and the comfort of knowing he is one of only 3 barbers snipping away in Guiuan.

Alan evacuated his family. Sent his wife and 4 children away with his scissors wrapped in cellophane. Then he waited.

When the storm came, the village went black. He ran across the street to a water distribution store, shoved himself into the concrete bathroom with neighbors. Saw through the tiny window roofs flying and trees cracking. The wind ripped and howled, until he was near deaf with the sound.

He thought it was the end. This, he thought, is when I die.

The barber rises

The next morning he stood in front of what used to be house, staring at his broken red barber’s chair. Later he saw bodies loaded into trucks, later, much later still, he saw relief goods flown in.

It was a desperate time, he said. It was a hopeless time.

Then the men started coming.

They wanted to tell their stories. His barbershop, said Alan, used to be the center of gossip. They told him everything, and he listened and nodded and agreed as he snipped away at hair.

After Yolanda, they said they wanted haircuts. Alan said the barbershop was gone. They said it didn’t matter. Their houses may fall, their businesses may be lost, but, by God, the men of Guiuan will look good.

So Alan built a wall out of the scraps of his old house. He unwrapped his tools, found a plastic chair, and they came, one man after another telling their stories. How the storm sounded. How people died. How everything was gone. How this man had a hammer, and was willing to lend.

Alan cut hair. Spent an hour on what would have taken 5 minutes with an electric razor. Cut around scars and bruises. Reassured a boy whose curly mop disappeared. Powdered, clipped, combed, laughed, listened.

His mirror is broken, he says. It is better this way. The vain will have no reason to watch and complain.

The barber who stayed

When they leave, Alan walks to the yard, picks out sheets of crumpled tin, hammers them into his expanding roof.

He will not leave, he says. He will not return to Catbalogan to be a hired barber in the shop he used to own. He will not go home to his parents, not while he is still a grown man with a family. He will eke out a living here, where he has no boss and no hours. He will rebuild his life. He belongs to Guiuan, and a man from Guiuan fights.

In Eastern Samar there is a village called Guiuan. In Guiuan there is a street, in the street there is a shop, and in the shop is a man with a pair of scissors and an ear for the stories of every man who saw Guiuan fall. – Rappler